Human Rights

Parliament must reject the GMO Bill in its current form (Daily Monitor (Uganda))

There is growing pressure from scientists and their lobbyists to push Parliament into passing the highly contested Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill (GMO), which has been on the order paper twice this week after it was deferred last year for further consultations.But the responsible legislators have shied away from public discussions about the Bill, which they have been made to believe is scientific and has nothing to do with an ordinary Ugandan.In fact, ardent supporters of GMOs have taken to witch-hunting a few scientists who have come out to share opposing views about this Bill. For example, an article in the New Vision of February 19, quotes the director of NARO, castigating some scientist from Makerere for opposing GMO yet they are public servants.In his opinion, these intellectuals should keep mum on such an important issue just because they are public servants!Of course, this is a deliberate exclusionary strategy and is part of the dominance and control value system for the bio-hegemony group to undermine any other view.Regardless of the side of the debate, there is no consensus about the safety of GMOs even in the USA where biotechnology has been used for some time. A number of peer reviewed studies have indicated potential risks to human health from eating GM foods, including cancer, infertility and allergies, among others.Evidence is also emerging on the impact of GMOs on the ecosystem, including extinction of indigenous foods, pest resistance, and emergency of invasive weeds.It is, therefore, a sign of dishonesty for any scientist to blatantly ignore this evidence. If GMOs were safe, why would we have to legislate on safety aspects that have not been adequately addressed in the Bill?Of course, the dilemma is that those pushing the Bill are the same beneficiaries and regulators of the same technology.They already have a conflict of interest and would not do due diligence on a technology that pays their monthly cheque. Dominating all responsible institutions, they have failed to listen to concerns on the Bill.One such concern relates to the fact that our regulatory and monitoring regimes are not based on our context and are being externally pushed on all African countries by the biotechnology giants to favour a permissive environment to facilitate trade and commercialisation of GM technology.Coupled with the bad history of manipulation and fraud by biotech industries, and the nasty experiences of injustices against farmers in countries such as Brazil, Canada, India and now South Africa, we have all reasons to doubt the intention of some scientists pushing for a weak law.For example, the Bill is so weak on institutional framework on biosafety, which should be the major concern for Ugandan farmers and consumers. The Bill, under Clause 29, provides that it’s the applicant who assesses the risk and the competent authority only evaluates the risk.This is strange, given that some of our scientists lack objectivity. In addition, the Bill leaves scientists scot-free in the event of any risk. If our scientists were sure about the safety of the technology, why would they worry about stringent penalties and liabilities?We must appreciate that as a country, we have not run out of options to warrant an emergency.As such, our legislators must not succumb to the pressure being created by GMO lobbyists. We must go back to the drawing board and rewrite the entire Bill to ensure the protection of our food sovereignty.Mr Kawooya is policy and campaigns manager – ActionAid Uganda.